In response to a proposed federal rule, APA points out that a diagnosis of mental illness is not indicative of a youngster’s mental health as an adult.
APA is urging the U.S. Department of Justice not to require reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) of individuals who were “adjudicated as a mental defective” or involuntarily committed to a mental institution prior to reaching age 18.
In a letter to the department in response to the proposed rule, which is titled “Amended Definition of ‘Adjudicated as a Mental Defective’ and ‘Committed to a Mental Institution,’ ” APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., wrote, “Reporting is a fixed event that marks a person for life, while the clinical and developmental realities for persons under 18 are, in fact, dynamic, and the psychiatric issues they experience are often transitory. A policy that would designate a permanent status to an individual in this age group ignores this reality.”
Levin added that as a child develops, a mental health clinician’s assessment of the child’s mental health status can change. “Recent research has demonstrated that the brain continues to change and develop throughout the teen years and into early adulthood,” he said. “Studies indicate that the adolescent period poses vulnerabilities to risk-taking behavior, but, importantly, that this is a temporary stage. As a result, adolescents are more likely to respond impulsively, utilizing a more primitive part of their brain, and are more likely to act out in ways that may cause them to be involuntarily committed to a mental institution or deemed mentally defective. The evaluation of a child with a behavioral disorder is difficult, and a childhood diagnosis of a mental health disorder will not necessarily characterize the individual’s health once he or she reaches adulthood. In fact, treatment in childhood for mental health issues may well increase the likelihood that an individual will reach adulthood without the kind of serious mental health issues that should be reportable to NICS.”
Levin said that APA strongly recommends the definitions of “adjudicated as a mental defective” and “committed to a mental institution” not be expanded to include adjudications and involuntary commitments that occurred prior to age 18. “The negative consequences of reporting the adjudications and involuntary commitments one receives as a child or adolescent to NICS under the federal mental health prohibitor far exceed any value to society that can come from doing this,” he pointed out. “Just as we protect children who have been found guilty of committing crimes before the age of 18 from entering adulthood with a criminal record, we must protect children who have had mental health issues from being stigmatized by them into adulthood by having them reported to NICS.” ■
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